Theory and Practice

Time and Money

The Art of Giving and Receiving Advice by David A. Garvin and Joshua D. Margolis (Harvard Business Review, January/February 2015)

Two Harvard business professors explore the two roles that often play out in professional settings: Advisor and advisee. This article relates well to teachers, administrators, and instructional coaches. They identify the many hurdles involved in giving and receiving advice, including an inaccurate assessment of one’s own knowledge, dismissing ideas because they don’t fit with one’s predetermined line of thinking, and surrounding oneself with poor advisers.

When you pick your advisers, you pick your advice.

For advisors, the best way in helping those looking for support and ideas is being an active listener. This includes providing ample time to ask open-ended questions in order to determine the role one should play as the advisor. It is ultimately about helping the advisee become independent as a leader in their organization, as the advisor won’t be there forever. Garvin and Margolis provide a good metaphor.

If you are the advisor, think of yourself as a driving instructor. While you provide oversight and guidance, your ultimate goal is to empower the seeker to act independently.

In addition to the practical advice, Garvin and Margolis offer guidelines for each stage of advising, for the person on each side of the table:

  1. Finding the right fit.
  2. Developing a shared understanding.
  3. Crafting alternatives.
  4. Converging on a decision.
  5. Putting advice into action.

One of the main points to take from this article is that while both parties are striving to find a solution to the same problem, their roles and mindsets are very different. “An individual is likely to think idealistically as an adviser but pragmatically as a seeker, even when confronting the same challenge.” A need that both roles have in common is time to have these ongoing conversations.

All the Time They Need by Ellin Oliver Keene (Educational Leadership, November 2014)

“The fact is, if we want students to think at high levels, we’re going to have to give them time. And we’re going to have to get comfortable with silence.” So states Ellin Oliver Keene, literacy consultant and author of Talk About Understanding: Rethinking Classroom Talk to Enhance Comprehension (Heinemann, 2012).

Keene details a demonstration lesson she conducted in a 3rd grade classroom for about 20 teachers. Her interaction with Adyana, one of the students, about a think aloud they just facilitated does not closely resemble the tennis match that conversation too often resembles in classrooms. After posing a question to Adyana that forces her to think more deeply about what she initially shared, Keene allows for silence. She describes the response of everyone in the room.

I can feel the teachers’ eyes on both of us; I can hear a murmur circulate among them. The other children squirm and try to get my attention. But I force myself to wait. Adyana looks at me, her beautiful brown eyes begging to be bailed out. I smile at her. Uncomfortable doesn’t begin to describe what I’m feeling.

Fortunately, everyone does become used to the quiet. This allowed Adyana the time to come up with a thoughtful, deep response to the question. Also, it is noted that the type of question posed is as important as the time that is given to respond to it. Keene follows up with practical advice on structuring lessons to allow for time to think, such as asking “What else?” after one student shares their thinking. “Believe me, there’s always more to say.”

Superintendent: Why I must violate state law to help my students by Valerie Strauss (The Washington Post, March 13, 2015)

Strauss shares a letter written by Dr. Arthur Tate, superintendent of public schools in Davenport, Iowa. Dr. Tate explains to the school community his decision to break state law and dip into their district’s fund balance. He states that this is the only way to make up for the shortfall that the state government has created by not properly funding public education. Dr. Tate recognizes the risk he is taking, but he also understands who he truly answers to in his position. “I care more about our students and their needs than I do about the state law in this case.”

How to Attract Teachers to Poor, Rural Areas by Madeleine Cummings (Slate’s Schooled blog, March 13, 2015)

It can be very difficult to hire highly-qualified teachers in rural areas. High poverty rates, lower than average pay, and professional isolation are often cited. Sam Bruner, an administrator for two schools on a Native American reservation, has taken a different approach to this problem: Offering candidates autonomy in their instruction and the time to develop relationships with their students. He has found some success. “Teachers say a financial incentive, like subsidized tuition or loan forgiveness, might pique their interest. But they ultimately came to teaching—and stayed—for the kids.”

What’s important

We recently surveyed our staff about our professional learning plan, regarding how effective and useful the offerings were this year. Overall our activities, such as technology training and collaborative assessment, were rated positively. Then we asked everyone what we should focus on for next year. The majority of staff requested time to upload evaluation artifacts and student intervention information.

I would like to say this information is surprising. Why select the activities that will have the lowest impact on student learning? However, given the current national climate in education, it really wasn’t. We know that time and money are necessary to engage in powerful conversations, between principal and teacher, teacher to teacher, and teacher with student. Ongoing training in these powerful practices are essential. So when school funding is reduced while more is being added to our plates, I can see why autonomy and time with students has become a recruitment tool.

It’s about more than just time or money. It is about treating educators as professionals striving to always become better in a very complex profession. Only in an environment that honors the nonlinear path that learning sometimes takes can this occur.